Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Spoonfuls of sugar

You can read the first post about our trip to Germany HERE.

August 2, 2011 - Arrival in Germany
Frankfurt am Main / Hofheim / Laufdorf

We have arrived. The plane pulled in at 10:10 a.m. into Frankfurt am Main, one of the busiest international airports in Europe. We de-planed quickly and proceeded to have our passports stamped, and then followed all of the signs to Baggage Claims. John noticed that most signs were in both German and English. “I think I’m going to be just fine,” he announced. He was relieved, as he speaks no German, that language will not prove to be a barrier.

We met my Aunt Doris and Uncle Herbert shortly after rolling our baggage out Gate 5. When we saw their tiny Peugot 206 SW, we were somewhat concerned whether our full-size suitcases and carry-on luggage would fit, but with a little tilting, turning and stacking, we were on our way to our next destination, Hofheim. 

Left to right: Judy, Aunt Doris, John

Interestingly, most German towns and Länder (states) have a unique coat of arms. Below is the one for Hofheim.

Hofheim, a picturesque little suburb of Frankfurt with rolling hills and twisting streets, is where my aunt and uncle have two lovely friends named Angela and Harald. Technically speaking, Angela is my aunt's cousin. She and Harald are a lively, healthy couple in their 80s who became friends with my father on his previous three trips to Germany in 2003, 2006 and 2008. They were excited to meet us, and welcomed us with a handshake and a hug at the same time. For me it was immediate immersion in the German language. Angela speaks Hochdeutsch (High German), which is the typical German spoken and written in school, but Harald speaks a strong local dialect of German, which for the most part I was able to decipher. 

Left to right: Harald, Angela

We spent the better part of the afternoon with the couple, enjoying their hospitality and Angela’s marvelous culinary skills. To our surprise, Harald gifted us with an album filled with photos of my father's visits with them. Since my father passed away just this past July 6th, we found this to be an incredible kindness. 

Left to right: Angela, Aunt Doris, Harald, Dad
Harald, who is an avid photographer, mentioned that the last photo in the album is a recent one and that he was sure we would recognize it. Amusingly, he caught our plane in flight as it was approaching the airport in Frankfurt, which is about 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) south of Hofheim. Apparently his house is right beneath the flight path of trans-Atlantic flights like ours!

We ate a light afternoon Mittagessen (noon meal) that is typical for Germans, consisting of homemade soup and flavorful hard rolls. 

Left to right: Aunt Doris, Harald, Judy, John

Later it was time for Kaffeeklatsch (coffee break), when we sampled Angela’s marvelous home-baked treats, consisting of Berliner (jelly-filled doughnuts), Kaffeekuchen mit Kirschen (coffee cake with cherries), a Schokoladensahnenrolle (cream-filled chocolate roll), and delicate, chewy Florentine (also known as lace cookies) made with almonds, sugar and honey that melt in your mouth before you can swallow each bite.

Left to right: Judy, John, Angela. The Florentine cookies are in the center of the table.
We enjoyed very much our tour of their home, which was built in the early 1900s. I was surprised to hear that Angela and Harald maintain the beautiful landscaping pretty much themselves. Harald, who is a masterful wood worker, has made much of the cabinetry throughout the house. His tools are organized in a workroom that would be the envy of any professional. I suspect that much of the energy that Harald enjoys is the result of the fact that he swims 26 laps of a pool three or four times a week—an indoor pool, I might add, that he built with his own two hands.

On our way to my aunt and uncle's home in Laufdorf (which translates literally as "running village"), my Uncle Herbert stopped in front of an interesting restaurant featuring a nautical theme, which he was certain would interest John, a former U.S. Navy officer. At this point John and I were so sleepy from both food and our flight, that I am not sure either of us could tell you whether the restaurant was under construction or completed, but the photo below suggests the former.

After our visit, John and I weren’t sure we would have room for supper, but around 9:00 p.m. we did manage to squeeze it in. In Germany it is typical to eat a heavier meal around noon (similar to an American dinner, but smaller), and a smaller meal in the evening called Abendessen (larger than a typical American lunch). An afternoon coffee break with a slice of Kuchen (cake) is also common. We aren’t quite sure at this point how to enter what we eat into our WeightWatchers® log, but we figure that if we watch our portion sizes, we should be okay.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Leaving for Germany

This past August my husband and I journeyed to Germany, a trip that was 32 years in the planning. We visited for a month, staying with relatives from my father's side of the family. For the first two weeks, we resided with my uncle and aunt in south central Germany, while the remainder of our visit was in northern Germany with my cousin and his wife. Please feel free to join us as I re-live our travels in this and continuing posts.

August 1, 2011
Des Moines, Iowa to Frankfurt am Main, Germany

5:30 p.m. CST
John’s friend, John C., picked us up at 1:00 today, taking us to the airport in Des Moines. We took United Flight 6048, a United Express Economy flight that involved sitting in an airplane too small to accommodate carry-on luggage. Nervously, I watched my carry-on suitcase slide down the conveyor rollers from the boarding ramp to the plane, hoping that the suitcase containing my laptop would not crash to the ground. Later, though we were told that you could take only a handbag or small backpack with you to put under your seat, I noticed that other people who were nervous about their laptops pulled them out of their carry-on luggage and put them on their laps. I don’t blame them, and think I will do the same on the return journey.

We landed what felt like a half hour later in Chicago (but was really longer), and proceeded to our gate, where we were told that we still had about 20 minutes before our flight would begin boarding. We were invited to take advantage of the Red Carpet hospitality room, which is available to passengers like us who are flying Business Class. That is where I am writing now. It is so much more quiet here than at the gate, where many people waiting to board cannot even find a place to sit. Refreshments, other than alcohol, are free of charge. John and I had a cup of cool, refreshing water, shared a cup of dried fruits and nuts, and ate some fresh baby carrots. Nice! We took the time to leave David a voice mail message saying good bye, and to call John’s mom to let her know that we arrived okay in Chicago.

We just heard the loudspeaker announcement, letting us know that our flight is getting ready to board, so I will resume this narrative later.

10:00 p.m. CST
It is now 7:00 a.m. in Germany, but we are only about three hours into Flight 940 aboard a Boeing 747-400. I am taking the time to jot down a few impressions before I try to get some shuteye, since it will be about another five hours before we land in Germany, where it will be 10:00 a.m.

This is the first time that John and I have ever flown Business Class, and let me say that I would not hesitate to fly this way again on a trans-Atlantic or any lengthy flight. The seats themselves are a miracle—fully cushioned, wide, and adjustable. You can actually lay the seat down flat for sleeping and are provided with a pillow, blanket, bed socks and eye mask to keep out the light. Many of the passengers are already reclining after a wonderful dinner consisting of a center cut of smoked salmon loin, seasonal mixed baby greens, herbed Boursin® rotisserie chicken with a pomegranate glaze, along with stir-fried sugar snap peas and carrots, and a whole grain roll. Delicious! The steward welcomed us by name, and service is really excellent.

There are three columns of seats in Business Class, which occupies part of the upper tier of seating in the plane. You know those windows that you see close to the top of a Boeing 747? Well, that’s where we are. The Economy Class passengers are actually seated below us. When we boarded the plane, we entered one door of the plane, and Economy Class passengers entered another. From left to right, the first two passengers face the rear of the plane, the ones in the middle column (four seats across) face the nose of the plane, and the two far right seats face the tail. 

Each passenger has a personal viewing screen where you can watch a movie or select a television program, check out information about the plane’s itinerary, or listen to music. When the pilot makes an announcement, programming pauses, but beyond that you have uninterrupted time to spend with your personal entertainment system. I browsed through the various categories, but in the end decided that sleep would be more productive than seeking audiovisual leisure, since we will be spending an entire day with my Uncle Herbert and Aunt Doris before we can go to bed seven hours later than we would normally dive beneath the covers.

2:30 a.m. CST
I woke up about a quarter of an hour ago, feeling a bit gritty-eyed but otherwise okay. I guess I’m excited about getting our first day in Germany started. I can hear the stewards and stewardesses clinking silverware, plates and drinking glasses in preparation for breakfast; in fact, some people have already been served while I take a few minutes to freshen up in the bathroom, washing my face, brushing my teeth and reapplying makeup. One of the items we were provided, when we boarded the plane, was a zipper pouch filled with personal care items, including a toothbrush and toothpaste. Breakfast, like dinner just a few hours ago, is excellent, consisting of a plate filled with fresh fruits, orange juice and a tasty croissant.

The plane will land in about 90 minutes, so we’re getting excited. John is more tired than I am, since he slept for only an hour and 15 minutes.

© 2011 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Spass muss sein!

My father, Joe, was 81 years old when he passed away this past July 6th after a prolonged battle with lung cancer. He left behind four children and six grandchildren, all spread through the U.S. in Wisconsin, Washington, Kentucky, Oregon, and Iowa—and a brother and many other relatives in Germany. He was preceded in death by my mother, Margarete, by my baby brother Michael, by his parents, and all of his siblings but one.

Joe grew up in Oberhausen-Sterkrade, Germany.

Born in Germany, Joe was only nine years old when World War II began. Like many children whose parents were concerned about their safety, he was sent south to the Alps until the worst conditions were past. There his adventurous spirit encouraged him to don his Lederhosen and climb high enough to pluck an Edelweiss flower that he pressed between the pages of his boyhood photo album. Naturally athletic, his favorite youth sports included soccer and hand ball.

Joe (left) and his friend clutch their Edelweiss flowers.

A thirst for new experiences caused Joe to board the S.S. Washington on June 22, 1951 from Hamburg, Germany to sail to the U.S. He was 21 years old when he arrived in New York on July 2nd with only two suitcases and an eager smile on his face. His sponsor was his Uncle Joe in Elm Grove, Wisconsin.

He met the love of his life, Margarete, at a restaurant where she was waitressing. They married in 1954 at Camp Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, where Joe served in the Sixth Armored Division. It was through his military service that he earned his U.S. citizenship. Joe felt a deep sense of patriotism for his adopted country. He was proud to be a Charter Contributor to The Statue of Liberty Ellis Island Foundation.

My parents, both from Germany, became naturalized American citizens.

Over time, Joe and Margarete discovered a mutual appreciation for classical music, ballroom dancing and singing, which they enjoyed at a German-American club called Harmonie. To some extent, these interests were an extension of Joe’s musical ability. As a teen, he and his friends formed a band in which he played the drums. During the early years of his marriage, he played an accordion. One Christmas when he was in his 70s, he bought himself an electronic keyboard, and for a while during his stay at The Courtyards at Luther Manor, he was a member of the bell choir.

Joe dances with his sister, Hedwig, during a visit to Germany.

Joe was fascinated with technology from the time he arrived in the U.S. to the day he died. In 1958 he began taking flying lessons for his commercial pilot license and flew Cessnas; he continued to fly during his retirement years. In his 60s, he began building his own two-seater plane, and when he was 70 years old, Joe bought himself his first computer and taught himself how to use it.

My brother, Mark, and I admire the plane our father flew.

His earliest jobs in the U.S. took advantage of his tool-and-die maker skills at Kearney & Trecker and at Globe-Union in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Following his military service he began attending Milwaukee School of Engineering, but left to seek full-time employment when Margarete became pregnant with their first child. Later, when his growing family moved to California, he supplemented his education with electrical engineering courses from Cerritos College.

Eventually Joe advanced to management positions at Weiser Lock in southern California, and S-B Manufacturing Company, General Stamping and Stoelting in Wisconsin. At S-B Manufacturing, where he was the plant manager, he often designed creative gifts for retiring employees made from Christmas tree stands and other items that the firm manufactured. 

Joe designed the standing figure from Christmas tree stands and screen door parts.

During the last years before retirement, Joe ran his own tool rental business. He also completed a Briggs & Stratton small engine repair course by correspondence, which enabled him to do lawn mower and snow blower repairs—in many cases free of charge for his neighbors. While residing at The Courtyards at Luther Manor, he worked in the wheelchair repair shop.

Around the house, Joe was the ultimate do-it-yourselfer. He installed ceiling fans and kitchen appliances such as the dishwasher, oven and stove, re-keyed locks, and added a three-season patio room to the house. Joe even created his own aquariums from scratch for goldfish he raised. He transferred the fish to a back yard pond he designed, and added a fountain.

My father always had a project on the backburner.

Joe liked to live his life according to what he called the three Ps—patience, perseverance, and participation. He employed all three qualities in youth leadership roles as he became involved in his children’s activities: Mark and Rick’s Cub Scouts, Rick’s Indian Guides, and Monica’s Indian Princesses. He took sailing lessons with Judy and Mark, and snowmobile safety classes with Rick and Monica. He taught all of the children how to play chess and Canasta during grade school, constructed a detailed 3-D castle with Mark, and helped Judy thread her first sewing machine. He came home from work to get Monica’s hand out of the kitchen mixing bowl, and taught Rick how to clean the first fish he caught. He played with a pet parakeet and tussled with the family dog. The entire family looked forward to Joe’s Sunday morning waffle-baking marathons.

Before my sister, Monica, was born, my father enjoyed couch time with (left to right) Mark, Rick and me.

My father snapped this photo of  his four children the first winter after we relocated to Wisconsin after living in southern California for 4-1/2 years (clockwise, beginning in the upper left corner): Judy, Mark, Rick and Monica.

My father kept Tony, one of a series of parakeets the family kept, in his workroom.

When I went to college, the family acquired Happy, a West Highland Scottish terrier.

Joe was proud of all his grandchildren, took pride in their academic and athletic achievements, and loved sharing stories about them with his visitors. He enjoyed playing with his grandchildren as they grew up.

Joe bicycles with his granddaughter, Kat.

Our son, David, and Opa enjoy a tender moment.

My sister, Monica  (next to my dad), visited my father last year with her daughters (left to right): Janelle, Bethany and Adrienne.

Margarete and Joe enjoy a visit from their Washington granddaughters (left to right), Kris and Kat.

Among the more recent highlights of his life was a cross-country RV trip he shared with his brother Herbert and sister-in-law Doris to visit all of his children and their families. He visited Herbert and Doris in Germany, and accompanied them on a trip to Rome, where he was part of the Pope’s audience. He attended the wedding of his niece Regina and husband Daniel in Germany, and not even a year ago danced with his granddaughter Adrienne at the Chicago wedding of grandson David and his wife Penny.

Granddaughter Adrienne dances with "Opa" at our son's wedding.

Volunteering was as natural to him as breathing. For 11 years, Joe delighted in teaching religious education to 7th graders at St. Agnes Parish in Butler, Wisconsin. “They don’t know if they’re fish or fowl,” he used to say, “and I find that refreshing.” Because algebra and trigonometry were a daily part of his work day, it was easy for him to volunteer to tutor adults in math, which he did as part of an adult literacy project. He delivered meals for the local Aging and Disability Resource Center, and volunteered for the Wisconsin Nursing Home Ombudsman Program. For a while at Luther Manor, he ran the audio-visual equipment when the first-Friday-of-the-month Mass was broadcast throughout the residential community.

Joe is recognized for his service as Volunteer Ombudsman for the Wisconsin Nursing Home Ombudsman Program.

Joe fought a valiant battle against various forms of cancer during his lifetime, following four simple rules:
  1. Eat when you’re hungry.
  2. Sleep when you’re tired.
  3. Always find time to laugh
  4. Be hopeful. 
He had a prodigious store of jokes he liked to tell, and retained his sense of humor despite the challenges of his illness. “Spass muss sein” (you gotta have fun), he would tell everyone. Joe didn’t like to be rushed, so it was not unusual to hear him say, “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” He has crossed the Eternal Bridge now to be with his Father, where he will no doubt continue to tell jokes.

Joe returned to the Alps in recent years to visit boyhood haunts.